The Biden administration has demanded that governors in 16 states address a funding disparity of over $12 billion between land-grant Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their non-HBCU counterparts, according to the US Department of Agriculture. In joint letters sent to the governors, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack highlighted the unbalanced funding that hinders the advancement of HBCUs compared to other land-grant institutions in those states.
A land-grant institution is a college or university that offers education in areas such as agriculture, science, military science, and engineering. These schools were established on federal land or with the proceeds from the sale of federal land granted to state governments. By law, these institutions and their HBCU counterparts are required to receive equitable distribution of funds from their state governments. However, the administration has found significant funding disparities that have affected the resources and investments of HBCUs.
The letters were sent to the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Secretary Cardona emphasized the impact of funding inequities on HBCUs, stating that it has led to insufficient resources and delays in critical investments.
The concept of land-grant institutions was established by the Morrill Act of 1862 to provide higher education opportunities in farming and mechanical skills. Over time, amendments were made to address educational inequality among African Americans and Native Americans. To determine the amount each HBCU would have received with equal funding, the administration used data from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Survey. The discrepancies in the funding of the 1890 institutions ranged from $172 million to $2.1 billion.
Out of more than 100 land-grant institutions in 57 states and territories, only 18 states have land-grant HBCUs. The USDA noted that Delaware and Ohio are the only states that have equitably funded their respective universities.
The Biden administration’s letters have sparked responses from state officials. Jay Dardenne, commissioner for the Louisiana Division of Administration, confirmed receiving the letter and expressed the need to meet with Secretaries Cardona and Vilsack to gain further clarity. In Maryland, Governor Wes Moore has been a strong advocate for HBCUs and has directed millions of dollars of funding to support them.
Secretary Vilsack urged governors to address the funding disparities and invest in HBCUs at an equitable level. The issue of underfunding in land-grant HBCUs has been a longstanding concern. In 2022, six students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University filed a federal lawsuit claiming decades of underfunding.